Onondaga County Lawmakers Approve New Tool to Go After Tax Delinquent Commercial Properties

Aug 6, 2019

The former Syracuse Energy plant on Industrial Parkway in Geddes has been closed since 2013. It sits across the street from the WestRock Paperboard plant.
Credit Scott Willis / WAER News

Onondaga County lawmakers have thrown their support behind a new strategy that could lead to the seizure of certain tax delinquent properties.  The county executive’s plan to create the County Accountability and Reinvestment Corporation is seen as another tool to go after commercial properties with the goal of future development. 

Legislator Miles Bottrill says it’s an issue of fairness to those who PAY their taxes…even if the government has to get involved.

"I certainly believe in a property right, and this is a very significant issue relative to property rights and possibly taking a property right.  However, this is really an abuse to the taxpayer and to this community."

Credit Scott Willis / WAER News

Commercial properties currently owe the county a combined $45 million in back taxes.  County Executive Ryan McMahon called attention to one of them in late June…the long vacant Syracuse Energy Corp. power plant in Geddes.  The Ohio company that owns it owes about a million dollars in taxes, and it appears the owners began dismantling the buildings and selling the material for scrap before the county asked a court to stop them.   After some initial hesitation, Legislator Casey Jordan says he sees the value in going after such properties.

"In this case, potentially stripping out what's valuable on the property, and then perhaps, in the end, leaving the county with a parcel that is now of very little value or at least significantly diminished value.   Then you're leaving the taxpayers on the hook for unpaid taxes, and [the county is] now trying to market a piece of property that's been substantially devalued."

Jordan cautioned his fellow lawmakers about a potential slippery slope of the county getting too involved in developing private property.  Even so, Legislature Chairman Dave Knapp says it appears developers already have their eye on the property after hearing the county was trying to make it available.

"There have actually been some phone calls to the administration saying that, when the time comes, there  could be some interest.  It's in an industrial zone right off a railroad.  It's an attractive piece of property for industrial use."

Knapp says it’s currently hung up in court, but adds that the legislature’s support of the new local development corporation gives the county more leverage.  In a statement, County Executive McMahon says the vote sends a clear message to tax delinquent commercial property owners to either pay their taxes or the county will find a responsible owner to return the property to productive use. 

Heavy equipment on site indicates the owners might be trying to remove valuable raw material from the plant.
Credit Scott Willis / WAER News